In an operational first, the Air Force has armed the MQ-9 Reaper with the GPS-guided GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, bomb.
Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base and the 26th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base — both in Nevada — worked together to outfit the medium-altitude with the GBU-38, according to a release.
That same week, an MQ-9 loaded with a JDAM was used in combat in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Col. Case Cunningham commander of the 432nd Wing and 432nd Expeditionary Wing at Creech told Military.com on Tuesday.
Although GBU-38 on the Reaper has been in the works for a while — and has been listed a part of the MQ-9’s inventory of weapons — it hasn’t been operational.
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Since the MQ-9 entered service a decade ago in 2007, it has carried a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.
In 2010, the service paused incorporating the 500-pound JDAM pending resolution “of MQ-9 [Operational Flight Program] fuzing and weapons envelope discrepancies,” according to the Defense Department’s Director, Operational Test and Evaluation office.
The delays resulted over “testing priorities, not a safety concern,” an Air Force official told Military.com on background. Final testing and evaluation wrapped up earlier this year, the official said.
The bomb was cleared for operational use in April, Cunningham said.
“The GBU-38 has a 20 minute load time compared to the GBU-12, which has a 30 minute load time,” said Senior Airman Curtis, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member. “The GBU-38 is a quicker load compared to the GBU-12 and gets the plane in the air quicker,” Curtis said in the release.
Once released from the aircraft, the JDAM autonomously navigates to the designated target coordinates, according to the service.
“The overall impact of the GBU-38 is aircrew will have more versatility for the commanders to provide different effects and make a difference for the guys on the ground,” added Capt. Scott, a 26th WPS weapons instructor pilot. “It has a different guidance system and it opens the bridge to more GPS-guided weapons in the future.”
Meanwhile, the Air Force is moving to an all Reaper remotely piloted combat aircraft fleet, and will officially retire the MQ-1 Predator in 2018, officials announced in February.
As of Sept. 30, 2016, the Air Force had a total of 195 Reapers and 129 Predators across the active and Guard components, according to information compiled by the Air Force Association. Both aircraft are made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego.